21 April 2017

Urgency, Intensity, Desire: can Arsenal one-up Man City?

Be careful what you wish for, the tired old saying goes. And so it is with the FA Cup semifinal. Given a selection of drawing Tottenham, Chelsea, or Man City, how many of us heaved a sigh of relief at drawing City? At this stage of the FA Cup, of course, it's rare that one gets to choose a non-League side. Still, such are the state of things that we'd prefer to avoid our North London rivals, at least for now, preferring to face a side that was finished first or second in the Prem in four of the last five seasons. Man City may not intimidate the way they used to, and we've actually done tolerably well against them of late, perhaps well enough to engender a bit of hope if not confidence?

Let's face facts. We've not looked at all impressive since January even if we did manage to find a well-earned draw against City just a few weeks ago. We're staggering and stumbling into the run-in, very much on the outside looking in and hoping that others above us drop points. We're at least three points off the pace and need to find form, confidence, and points anywhere they're available.

Of course, this weekend, we set aside the points and the Prem, but we need very much to find the other two. Gritting our teeth past Boro on Monday offered relief without reprieve. While winning the FA Cup would qualify us for Europa League play, advancing past City could provide a much-needed lift for when we return to Prem action on Wednesday when we host Leicester.

Against Boro, Arsène Wenger changed our formation to a 3-4-3, something he's been coy about deploying again, saying, that "it's an option, yes, but what will I do? You will understand I won't tell you now. [The 3-4-3] was testing to give us more defensive stability because lately we concede too many goals." It's one thing to try it out against Boro; it's quite another to try it a second time against City. With Bellerín possibly unavailable and Mustafi ruled out, it seems unwise to play a new formation that might ask Gabriel, Monreal, and Holding to take on unfamiliar roles against an attack that features de Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, and Aguero, among others.

Still, it's Wembley. It's the FA Cup. Anything can happen—that's a phrase that usually suggests surprises. On top of that, it has to feel as if we need this more than Man City does. Our lads have got to feel the urgency of the moment, at least enough to match if not surpass the urgency they showed in that second half fightback against Man City three weeks ago. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to buy what I myself am selling, but stranger things have happened.

LAST 3
Arsenal 2-2 Man City (02.04.2017)
Man City 2-1 Arsenal (18.12.2016)
Arsenal 3-2 Man City (07.08.2016)

FACTFILE
Arsenal have scored at least two goals in five of their last six outings against Man City.
The two clubs' previous FA Cup clash happened in 1971; two goals from Charlie George secured the Arsenal win.
The two clubs first clashed in 1893, a 1-0 win for Woolwich Arsenal over Ardwick.

INJURIES
Cazorla, Mustafi, Lucas, Ospina, and Reine-Adelaide are ruled out; Bellerín, and Welbeck face late fitness tests.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Gabriel, Koscielny, Holding; Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain;  Alexis, Özil; Giroud.

PREDICTION
Arsenal 2-1 Man City